Tag Archives: barista

ZombieRunner Cafe Palo Alto

Great Coffee Playing Inside

As I progress through life I’ve learned that anomalies fascinate me. They capture my attention.  Maybe the same is true for you. We all love the unexpected gift, the unexplainable headline, the café seemingly far from what’s trending in Portland or San Francisco, but delivers anyway. That, my friend, is ZombieRunner in spades.

ZombieRunner Café is located in Palo Alto. It’s housed in a running shop, as in running and marathons, you know running right– that aerobic sport that people used to do before they figured out cycling.

ZombieRunner is tucked away in a converted art house /movie theater. The exterior sports a real ticket booth, and an overhead marquee proclaiming artisan coffee. A sidewalk sign board in neon colors (no chalk and slate here folks) touts their latte was voted best in the city. These “voted best of” prizes are usually the result of some chad hanging ballot box stuffing chamber of commerce shenanigans, not a democratic vote of the coffee masses, so I give them no heed, and walk inside.

When I walk through the door, I see no coffee, and think maybe the coffee place was the last tenant evicted back when Starbucks hit town. The clerk, walking up from a sea of running shorts and electrolyte fizz packs asks me if he can help.

“I am only looking for coffee,” I say.

“Sure,” he responds, and points West.

What I encounter next is what coffee is all about: a lone La Marzocco GB-5, and a barista named Courtney who knows how to use it.  My litmus test question in any café is, “may I have a Macchiato please?” While I say this I extend my hand and cup it in a very small ball. I then follow it up with the sentence fragment…” a true Macchiato?” If the response is yes, I know I am in a place that has some concept of the way things should be.  Courtney said yes, and I was on my way.

I grabbed a spot in the seating area.  This area was sans ubiquitous hipster wood paneling and reclaimed ship hatch doors.  There are a lot of coffee related items to score on: baby chemex(with the mondo big filters) , aeropress, and so on and so forth. Refreshing. To the South was the women’s running section, to the East a wall of what looked like very high tech running shoes, and to the North there was Courtney, working the GB-5, steaming, frothing, extracting. The Macchiato was ready in short order. Most importantly it was done right; the espresso and milk mixture was thick and deep. The latte art and slight crust had a nice tension on the top of the cup.

The creamy goodness blurred my lens a little.

A line formed just after 9. 9 is when ZombieRunner opens. Not so good on the late start, but I got the impression the locals were willing to wait until 9 to fill their travel mugs and cups with the ZombieRunner brew, and so they did zombie-like from off the street. Courtney knew them all. She knew what they wanted. She asked questions about their vacations, and families. There was a personal interaction between barista and patron I had not seen since the days before social networks and SEO driven marketing. The interaction was simply human, authentic, and one on one.

I don’t know if Courtney was headed to one of the many barista competitions in the near future in places like Iceland or Tokyo.  And, I don’t care. I do know that ZombieRunner café is a great way to chill in Palo Alto,  drink well made artisan extracted coffee, and buy whole beans—they do roast their own. When in that part of the world you should drop on by. It’s worth the drive.  They are located at 429 S. California Palo Alto, California 94306. Phone is 650-325-2048.  Find them on line at http://www.zombierunner.com/about/palo_alto_store/


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Man on Trial For Coffee Snobbery! Cafe or Kafka?

Razor wire fence claybank jail

“At the end of the day we are likely to be punished for our kindnesses.”

Michael Lonsdale as Jean -Pierre in Ronin.

I represent a client who loves coffee. He was arrested the other night for coffee snobbery.

The cops told his family that he needed help. The policy in these types of domestic criminal cases is one of zero tolerance. They claim he had a secret life. His coffee moniker is “Snobby.” The prison exposure is pretty bad. There are coffee priors. He is a registered offender.

After his wife paid our firm the retainer, I met with him for the first time. I reviewed the reports, and gave him my advice. I explained that he would never get a fair shake with the mass consumers in this town. He called me a dump truck lawyer, and shouted from behind the glass that I was in bed with the coffee chains, and super markets, and all those who market Coffea Robusta. He wanted a real lawyer, a lawyer who knew how to brew coffee.

The facts in the police report were pretty tough. I read that his wife was the one who first called the cops, and she wishes now she never dialed 911. Most mornings she sits alone in the kitchen. It is especially hard for her. He’s not there for her. The family La Marzocco Linea is cold, and sits idle. She misses the espressos, and the tiny ristrettos that stained the milk in his wonderful macchiatos.

I reminded him that a police report doesn’t have the veracity of the Old Testament. Cops make mistakes, but the first officer to arrive on scene witnessed the whole thing. My client stored his coffee in air-tight apothecary containers, away from the light and heat. He ground his beans just before pulling his shots, and he used a conical burr grinder modified to 325 microns for espresso. I looked up from the report that I was reading, and explained that a jury wouldn’t like that because it’s kitchen spec for coffee snobs.

The cops found his water filtration system; they even found the auxiliary tanks with the European waters. He had a library full of handbooks on cultivation of coffee plants, and other books detailing both the wet and dry processing of coffee cherries. The evidence tech seized some color photos of the CNC’s machined 58mm naked portafilters he used to pull what he called “Godshots.” These photos were found on the computer hard drive in the bedroom. Next to the computer the tech also uncovered some videos of the World Barista Championships. They found scales with coffee residue which is indicative of specialty coffee sales. They found thermometers for brewing and frothing. And last but not least, they found his espresso tamper set for 30 psi. He tried so hard to pull off the perfect tamp and grind.

All of this beautiful equipment was seized per the search warrant. The warrant, signed by the judge for day or night service, was supported by a damming affidavit penned by the under cover officer. The facts presented in the affidavit traced an elaborate plot of deception. My client would take a trip to the super market chain in one of his vehicles, and browse the coffee isle as if he was going to buy some Folgers or Hills Bros or Taster’s Choice. We watched the surveillance videos together as he loaded up his cart with vacuum packed cans. These videos were in real time, and it was so sad to see him attempt to sneak away, abandoning his cart in produce, just before exiting the store. The parking lot cam caught him driving away in another car. The police followed him to cafes like Blue Bottle, Ritual, and Verve. During the search they also found crude but effective accounting notes and receipts from the cafes called pay-owe sheets. These detailed his fondness for coffees from a region of Ethiopia known as Sidamo, a region of the world where the beans produce a citrus attribute, and creamy mouthfeel. Heavy stuff. Impossible to defend. When extracted as a single origin espresso, it’s deadly.

When I turned to him, and said he had no defense; he told me that I needed to hire an investigator. If I wouldn’t do this he would file a Marsden Motion to ask the judge to fire me for ineffective assistance of counsel. He would represent himself. He was adamant that his supply chain was transparent. Anyone could easily trace his coffee all the way back to the very farm where the beans were harvested. It would be easy to tell the jury the benefits and payback to the farmers, their families, and co-ops. Everyone in the supply chain benefited from his fair trade and direct trade principals. The farmers were implementing organic farming methods; so in addition to all of the above, the environment was benefited by the restoration of the indigenous rain forest trees, allowing the coffees to be shade grown and pesticide free.

I suppose that if the consumers ultimately convict him of snobbery, he will appeal the conviction. He will be one of those guys who file writs, habeas petitions, and the like. Only after a short time in custody he has become a real coffee house lawyer. The correctional officers tell me that he spends all of his time in the coffee section of the law library. He has asked for his cupping notes, and the reams of graphs that plot the home roasting profiles of his favorite beans. He can be found copying all the ads and claims of coffee chains. He distributes these to the inmates in his section of the jail who are the kitchen or mod workers.

We hired a cupping expert to review the notes, and reenact the roasting profiling and brewing as outlined. However, after testing we found the lab results worked against us. The coffee was too good, and worse, it was consistently too good. On the coffee calibrated scale — like rating wine, the brews were spot on 85 if not higher.

My closing argument will remind you that the defense or the theory of our case is one of Necessity. The judge will instruct you on what you need to find in order to make that decision. Remember, my client is not a coffee snob. He denies that he is a coffee snob. He states he is only concerned with brewing coffee the right way. Yes, his method of brewing was not consistent, you heard during the trial that he bounced back and forth, and experimented with every method: French press, Chemex, Syphon Brew, and the wildly addictive espresso double shot. He only expresses remorse for his behavior in that he meant to be a guide to those who brew drip, to guide those who think Mr. Coffees are the only way, to guide those who drink from Styrofoam cups, and to guide those who mindlessly pump stale coffee from Curtis Airpots day after dreary workday.

In his defense, he adhered to the law. He was not a transgressor. He followed the principals of organic chemistry in the roasting of his green beans, and the frothing of his milk. He followed the laws and principals of botany, weather, and world commodity markets. He never meant to offend, he only meant to help. He only meant to save the lost. He only meant to protect his friends, and family from the harsh and bitter extractions that so often passes for coffee.

And as you retire to your kitchens or your favorite cafe to deliberate I am sure that you will come to the conclusion that acquittal is the only option for my client. You will say to yourself, but for the grace of God go I.

Thank you

© 2009 all rights reserved Pat Riggs

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